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What Advocacy Teachers Can Learn from Monsters, Inc.

Two of my children are in elementary school so the release of Monsters University this summer was cause for some excitement in my house. The movie, released by Disney, is a prequel to Monsters, Inc. which came out about 10 years ago. Both stories feature a fictional city called Monstropolis, the power for which is generated by monsters scaring children (think monster in my closet, monster under my bed, etc.).

While both movies are entertaining, the original is my favourite because of the teaching point it offers advocacy instructors. In the first few minutes, Henry J. Waternoose III, the CEO of Monsters, Inc. uses a classic critique model to teach prospective “scarers” how to improve their technique.

First, he headlines his critique with an effective “hold it…can anyone tell me what went wrong?”. Then he replays for other students what the student in question did, namely, left the door open. Then he explains why leaving the door open was a bad idea, and then he asks other students to offer possible prescriptions. He ends by telling them, much the same way as good advocacy instructors do, that the key to effectively scaring kids is practice, practice, practice.

Long before the National Institute of Trial Advocacy or any Canadian law schools and CPD providers were using the learning-by-doing teaching model, Jim McElhaney was using it to teach law students at Case Western. It’s inspiring to see his legacy continue on the silver screen.

Note: Monsters trademarks and artwork copyright Disney- Pixar.

Get ’em Talking

Next time you’re setting up for an education program, reconsider the traditional classroom or theatre layout in favour of  a more interactive seating plan.

Even with larger audiences, there are lots of reasons to make it easier for participants to connect with each other: 1) one of the main reasons lawyers go to live programs is to network; setting the room up in a way that promotes interaction will give attendees a chance to get better acquainted; 2) communication is more two way – the audience is more likely to engage with the presenters in interactive layouts; and, 3) arranging tables to promote interaction sends a message that this program is something different – maybe even special.

The best seating plans for encouraging discussion are horseshoe/u-shaped, clusters (pods or rounds), and boardroom. Here is a quick description of each with pros and cons:


Pros – Good presenter visibility in open part of the U, allows for lots of eye contact with presenter and between participants, good for pair work, good for large-group discussions, fosters a sense of contribution

Cons – Requires a larger room, not ideal for larger group work (for example, fours or sixes), best suited for sessions where rank/power is not an issue (ie. no-one perceived to be “at head” of table)


Pros – Fairly compact, promotes easy group formation, encourages discussion within groups, creates a sense of equality which contributes to group problem solving, fosters a sense of contribution

Cons – communication between groups is not ideal, engagement with presenter can be tricky – especially if some participants have their backs to presenter or have to turn their chairs


Pros – good for learning by doing sessions, and group problem solving, encourages discussion within group

Cons – chairs at the short end of tables are often seen as leadership positions so consider reserving these for the presenter, not ideal for groups larger than about 12

In the end, there is no “one seating plan fits all” solution. If your goal is to get them talking, your arrangement will be well received so long as it supports the presenter, and encourages networking and participation among attendees.

Savings Shopper

Working with a shoe string CPD budget? Don’t fret. A booming CPD market, combined with lots of discount opportunities, is making it easier than ever to stay within budget. Here are five suggestions for how to save:

1. Early-bird pricing – These discounts are usually in the range of 10 to 15% off the regular registration fee. Providers use them to reward early registrants so they can have peace of mind about audience size.

2. Group discounts – These discounts are sometimes offered as percentages, but the best buys are the 4 for the price of 3 type deals. Providers use these to expand their audience base and help fill seats. They are often unadvertised.

3. New lawyer/student/paralegal discounts – These discounts can be quite significant – up to hundreds of dollars. The rationale is simple – you’re starting out or you’re support staff, therefore you probably have less funds available so you shouldn’t have to pay as much as established lawyers.

4. Distance discounts – Like the new lawyer discount, these savings can be significant, for example, equal the cost of a flight or few hundred kilometers’ mileage. Again like the new lawyer promo, these discounts are situational. Travel adds to the cost of attending a program, so if the only way you can get there is to increase your cost, the provider tries to level the playing field for you.

5. Member discounts – These are special pricing offered as an exclusive member benefit and usually represent savings in the 10 to 15% range, compared to the non-member rate. Although associations position these as an incentive to become a member, make sure it isn’t your only reason you join an association. The cost of membership may not be worth the program savings.

And my favourite suggestion (other than free CLE which I intend to write more about in future posts), is to call and ask for a discount. Plead your case. It’s the rare provider who won’t say yes. And ignore the private/not-for-profit bunk. Ironically, you’re more likely to be successful with private providers who don’t have to ask 10 other people what to do. Now go get those deals.